For those who have been in this game for decades, would you share a little history about the development of sample technology and the companies involved? I tried to find some information online but couldn't really find anything.
Excellent post.This is also a book I'd like to read, or even just as an observer, maybe write or contribute to. I'm not sure how commercially viable it would be.
I can maybe give what my experience is over the years and at least how I've felt as an amateur. This isn't objective.
I started composing and transcribing in 1996-ish with Finale+Cakewalk; I was 16 and had also just started playing piano. It started as a desire to be able to hear the pieces I like played back before I was able to play them (well, technically, I still can't). In the classical circle, these MIDI files were indexed in the Classical MIDI Archives, which still sort of exists: https://www.classicalarchives.com/midi.html
You can still hear and see those transcriptions: https://www.classicalarchives.com/midi/composer/2906.html, page 5 of the Transcendental Etudes.
For other types of music, you could get PG Music's various software, like Band In A Box, etc.
For playback back then, you'd have to have bought one of the quality Roland GS or EMU devices, that ESQ-1 mentioned above, or a host of other soundboards to get anywhere near interesting. I just used my Soundblaster AWE32, or something thereabouts, at the time. General Midi meant a lot more as a soundset, because there was also... not... general midi, which lost the common patch numbers that were shared amongst most devices at the time. Video game soundtracks were enhanced by having a better GM rig- now you could hear that X-Wing soundtrack on... slightly better synthesized sounds. The AWE32 even had wavetable synthesis.
Of course, yes, Samplers were around-- Kurzweil sounded "great", and you can hear a lot of that sound in things like Soul Coughing and other music of the era.
Stepping back a bit further in the era, and we also had "trackers." These were essentially sample-driven recreations of songs, of which there was a whole community making them (MODs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Module_file) -- oh the number of times I heard Under Pressure this way. I digress.
The point: it sounded OK. You got the idea. But not entirely expressive.
I'll admit, I took a few years off of the scene somewhere 98-2001 and was only buying older synths.
Fast forward to about 2001+ and computers were really able to handle much more. Disk space was cheaper, RAM wasn't measured in megabytes any more, you could buy sample libraries on CD-ROM and DVD. By the time we hit 2004-2006 quite a few decent libraries exist, Native Instruments is starting its dominance, Cubase and Cakewalk have graduated from being MIDI sequencers. Ableton comes to the scene and at this point it feels like innovation slowed down. There was plenty of good Gigasamples and Kontakt libraries here, but the realism was always missing something. The script-writers hadn't fully gotten the hang of the platforms, the platforms weren't offering nearly as much in their APIs to script, and you still had the RAM and new disk space limitations. It was somewhat an era where those expensive KORG, Yamaha, and Roland studio keyboards with everything built on was being prioritized over a larger computer-based ecosystem.
Took a few more years off, so I can't cover 2007-2014 or so. But when I returned in 2014 I was just blown away and didn't know where to begin. Everything that came before sounded old and acoustically wrong. Ableton still feels like it's from the future, but also stuck in its own past. It's amazing how slow some areas are moving. But then I found this forum, Spitfire, Orchestral Tools, etc. I want to throw away 20 years of musical doodling because it sounds terrible.
Ok, that's not an objective history, but it's what I got for the moment.
"Better than nothing," as you wrote, is the best you could say about it @sluggoI used S-760 and EMU samplers. But sometimes even turned to a Proteus 1 synth or a Kurzweil synth. It all sounded pretty bad but it was better than nothing
the development of sample technology